The Leader of the Opposition says that his party's progress will continue well beyond the next election.
AS I look back at the five decades we as a nation have left behind, a rush of memories floods my mind. That August day in 1947 when this 5,000-year-old civilisation of ours woke to a new dawn, free from centuries of foreign rule but bloodied by history's biggest human migration accompanied by appalling barbarism, along with millions of other Indians I dreamt of a future that would be far different from the past. India might have had to sacrifice territory at the altar of the Muslim League's communal politics, but like Sardar Patel, many of us were convinced that we would be able to mould what remained of this ancient, timeless land into a modern nation-state, firmly anchored in the republican values of democracy, equality and fraternity. Our hope for the future and our optimism helped us overcome the immediate pain and grief of Partition that was thrust upon the majority - comprising both Hindus and Muslims - by a scheming, calculating minority
Those were days of eager anticipation. We waited with bated breath for the Constitution to take final shape and followed the Constituent Assembly's proceedings for indications of India's future polity. Those were also turbulent times. Pakistan had launched an open assault on Jammu and Kashmir within months of Independence to smash and grab this princely State. The Maharaja's accession to India and the subsequent airlifting of Indian troops had charged the entire nation. To a man, Indians rose to ward off the first challenge to the nation's territorial integrity. Hyderabad posed yet another challenge to the nascent Government of free India.
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated and the Government of the day came down on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) with a heavy hand, launching a witch-hunt against the organisation and its members, most of whom were packed off to jail. The ban on the RSS was lifted after it was clearly established that this organisation had nothing to do with the Mahatma's killing. Soon after, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh was formed, largely with the purpose of floating a nationalist political party that would offer an alternative platform different from that of the Congress. Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee was the founder-president of the BJS.
By the time the first general election was held in 1951-52, the BJS was still a party in the making. But we were not daunted by this apparent weakness and went ahead and contested as many as 94 seats. While it is true that elections those days were not as expensive as today, parties still needed workers to canvass support for their candidates. Members and supporters of the BJS, lacking in funds but brimming with confidence, joined the election campaign with great gusto. Three BJS candidates, including Dr. Mookerjee, won this election; the party was able to secure a national vote share of 3.1 per cent! While others may have viewed this as a failure, we saw it as a success and resolved to work even harder for the next election.
But tragedy struck in the form of Dr. Mookerjee's mysterious death while being held captive by Sheikh Abdullah. The powerful agitation that had been launched by the BJS and the Praja Parishad under Dr. Mookerjee's leadership for the full and final integration of Jammu and Kashmir inspired our workers and supporters as never before; more than four decades later, it still continues to inspire us.
I remember accompanying Dr. Mookerjee on his historic mission to Jammu and Kashmir. To register his protest against the permit system (all non-Kashmiris required a permit to enter this State although it was a part of the Union) which was then prevalent, he had decided to enter Jammu and Kashmir without a permit. Dr. Mookerjee was arrested by Sheikh Abdullah's police on the bridge over the Ravi. As the policemen led him away, he turned towards me and said, "Go back Vajpayee. Go back and tell the people that I have entered Jammu and Kashmir State, though as a prisoner." That was the last time I saw this great nationalist, but his words still ring in my ears, spurring me on in those moments when despair, tiredness and fatigue threaten to overwhelm me.
Meanwhile, the party grew, with more and more people joining it. We began carrying our nationalist message of "One country, one people, one culture" to the farthest corners of India. By then, the Congress had begun to show cracks. In the 1957 elections we decided to contest 130 seats. This was a tall order as it was difficult to convince candidates to contest against the Congress - there was the very real threat of losing your deposit! The distance we have travelled from those days, the enormous increase in our support base and the collapse of the mighty Congress are easily measurable by the clamour for BJP tickets today - for every seat we have more than a dozen eager contenders. Coming back to 1957, our tally went up by one. That was also the year I began my life as a parliamentarian. Our vote share had increased by a modest 2.8 percentage points and stood at 5.9 per cent.
I REMEMBER Jawaharlal Nehru's scathing riposte to Dr. Mookerjee - "We will crush you!" - and Dr. Mookerjee's equally sharp rejoinder - "We will crush this crushing mentality." I also remember S. Radhakrishnan's caustic remark, "Bharatiya Jan Sangh? I did not know there was a party by this name!" There were only four of us in Parliament those days but we did not let this deflate our enthusiasm or our eagerness to participate in parliamentary proceedings. Today, the BJP occupies the largest number of seats in Parliament and while many may not have ever heard the names of some of the parties that form part of the present ruling coalition, there is nobody who has not heard of the BJP.
I took a personal interest in foreign affairs and here I must note that Nehru, despite all his shortcomings, was a democrat at heart. Once I spoke at length on the floor of the House, castigating the Government's foreign policy. I spoke in Hindi from the Opposition back benches. When it was the Prime Minister's turn to reply to the debate, I was pleasantly surprised to note that he had listened attentively to all the points raised by me. In fact, although he spoke in English, he replied to my points in Hindi. A second point I would like to make is Nehru's large-heartedness. Although we berated the Government day after day and did not have the numerical strength to make a difference, Nehru made it a point to introduce me to foreign visitors at official dinners.
The Chinese aggression came as a rude shock to the people and for the first time the Congress began to lose its nationalist appeal. Instead, more and more people turned towards the Bharatiya Jan Sangh's nationalist agenda. The 1962 elections saw us contesting 196 seats and winning as many as 14 with a national vote share of 6.4 per cent. By 1967, we had more than doubled our strength in the Lok Sabha to 35 with a vote share of 9.4 per cent. The reason I am giving these statistics is to show the growth in the party's support base and the increasing endorsement of its political agenda.
Indira Gandhi's Emergency in 1975 brought the wheels of democracy to a grinding halt. Along with other Opposition leaders and many of my party colleagues, I was put in jail. Those were harrowing days, dark days. Suddenly, our polity was endangered as never before and dictatorship appeared to be a very real possibility. Since ours was by then a large organisation, our party cadre jumped into the battle against autocracy. They kept alive the glimmer of hope among the masses through their underground activities. I must add here that the RSS, too, played an active role in organising opposition to the Emergency and sabotaging the oppressive machinery that had been set up to stamp out democracy. Even the harshest critics of the RSS would have to acknowledge this point.
BY the time it was clear that Indira Gandhi would be lifting Emergency restrictions and calling fresh elections, we had the option of going alone or joining hands with the other Opposition parties to defeat the Congress. Despite the fact that among all Opposition parties that existed at that point of time, ours was the best organised, the largest and best placed against the Congress, we decided to end our separate identity and merge with the others into forming the Janata Party. The results of the 1977 elections are too well known to bear repetition, as are the details of the collapse of India's first non-Congress Government at the Centre.
The people had shown their solidarity with us for our role during the Emergency by electing most of our candidates who contested on the Janata Party's symbol. A point needs to be made here. The number of seats allotted to the erstwhile BJS candidates was not an act of kindness. We got what we deserved, the number of seats was proportionate to our strength, which had by then increased by leaps and bounds in the northern States, especially Uttar Pradesh (by 1969, the BJS was represented in the Assembly by as many as 100 MLAs). Ours was the largest contingent in the new party (almost 100 of our men had won the 1977 election) yet we found ourselves at the receiving end of unwarranted criticism and were faced with ridiculous demands like the one raised over the "dual-membership issue".
The "dual-membership" issue was essentially a bogey, an excuse to try and push us into a corner. The real story behind this "crisis" was something else. As I have already said, ours was the largest contingent in the Janata Party, which had neither any organisational network nor any workers. Since the BJS already had both an organisational network and a large number of party cadre prior to the merger and formation of the Janata Party in 1977, it was only natural that we were better placed than the other parties that had come together. Our strength was perceived as a threat by some of them and they felt that in the event of a membership drive and organisational elections, we would have scored over them and taken control of the party. Hence the "dual-membership" issue was raised.
I VIVIDLY recall that prior to the merger and the formation of the Janata Party, we had made the relationship between the RSS and some of us very clear to the other leaders, including Jayaprakash Narayan. At that time they had emphatically stated that they had no objection to this as the RSS, and here I quote them, "is a cultural organisation devoted to good work." The same RSS, however, was unacceptable to these same people who raised the "dual membership" issue - they went back on their word. In a sense, the "dual membership" issue was a bit of a farce and had traces of irony because the Janata Party had not had a membership drive. How could they raise the question of "dual membership" when, strictly speaking, there was nothing like this? In any event, we chose to take a firm stand because how could we, who had spent almost our entire lives as swayamsevaks, suddenly sever all relations with the RSS, and that too for an organisation to which we had belonged only for a few months?
We chose to walk out rather than make an ideological compromise in the face of political bullying and blackmail. The BJS was reborn as the Bharatiya Janata Party on Good Friday in April 1980. This was soon after the 1980 elections which we had contested on the Janata Party symbol. The first election we contested under our own flag and symbol was in 1984 after Indira Gandhi's assassination. I have no hesitation in admitting that we fared terribly in this poll, as did every other party - the Lok Dal won three seats and the Janata Party 10, mostly from the South. We won only two of the 229 seats we contested and secured 7.4 per cent of the vote.
But I have no regrets because neither I nor my colleagues were prepared to pay the price for success in these polls. The terrorist killings in Punjab, the storming of the Golden Temple by the armed forces, Indira Gandhi's assassination by her own Sikh bodyguards and the subsequent butchery during the anti-Sikh riots had unleashed a momentary madness that was harnessed by the Congress to create a "sympathy wave". I can still vividly recall the Congress' election campaign of that year in which every Sikh was portrayed as a dangerous anti-national to be watched out for.
My party, I am proud to recall, was in the forefront of providing relief to the innocent victims of the anti-Sikh riots. Not only this, our workers were the first to put together a tally of those killed and injured and compute the damage due to arson. We were the first to expose the Congress for its complicity in the killings and the facts and figures that we were able to gather were not available with even the Home Minister.
My party, I also proudly recall, refused to exploit shamelessly the insanity that had gripped India in the immediate aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination. We stood by our cherished principle of unity - ekta. Yes, we lost to the Congress. But there are no regrets because our defeat was honourable while the Congress' thumping victory was tainted by the blood of innocent men, women and children. While the Congress tried to abuse its brute majority in Parliament to impose itself in a most arrogant manner, we regrouped our forces and drew sustenance from our uncompromising commitment to ideology, morality and ethics. Our hard work, relentless campaign against Congress corruption and dedication to the nation paid dividends in the next general election. In 1989, we wiped out the defeat of 1984.
Indeed, the general election that followed the one in 1984 showed how right we were and how wrong the Congress was. Phoenix-like, we rose from the ashes of 1984 and secured 86 seats in 1989. This quantum leap startled everybody, especially our critics. They consoled themselves by claiming that it was a freak election, that the BJP's strength could only decline from this highpoint. In reality, they fooled themselves. Our uncompromising nationalism, our commitment to probity in public life, our war against politics of opportunism, our opposition to pandering to casteism and minorityism gave us the strength to prove these Cassandras wrong. From 86, our strength went up to 120 in 1991, from 120 it went up to 161 in 1996. We had left the Congress and everybody else behind!
THE Ayodhya movement has no doubt contributed to this success. We joined the movement because Sri Ram epitomises the cultural heritage of all Indians, he symbolises our cultural nationalism. Through this movement, we were able to unleash the suppressed aspirations of millions of Indians and canalise their nationalist fervour towards nation-building. Indeed, the Ayodhya movement has effectively driven home the point that if Ram represented the ideal of conduct, Ram Rajya, to which the BJP is dedicated, represented the ideal of governance. The Ayodhya movement seeks to restore the temple at the birthplace of Sri Ram since this would contribute to the restoration of our cultural heritage as well as set right a grave historical wrong.
But to limit the BJP's success to the Ayodhya movement would be to minimise our political programme and agenda, as well as ignore the hard work and dedicated service of our party cadre. What has also contributed to our success is our slogan "Justice for all, appeasement of none". The BJP believes in creating a society through able governance where every individual, irrespective of caste, religion or sex, will have a place under the sun, where optimism, opportunity and oneness will provide the impetus for the creation of a strong and prosperous nation.
Today, I have no doubt in my mind that the onward march of nationalist forces led by the BJP will continue well beyond the next election or the one after that. The spirit of nationalism that spurred our freedom fighters to sacrifice everything for their motherland was sought to be suppressed by the Nehruvian consensus in the decades immediately after Independence. But nationalism cannot be killed by transplanted ideologies or pseudo-ideologies.
In this 50th year of Independence, we can see the stirrings of dormant nationalism coming to life. That which had been suppressed for 50 years is seeking to break free. Standing on the threshold of modern, republican India's golden jubilee, I can only pray for the future. But I am confident that India will enter the next millennium with its head held high, a strong and prosperous nation, proud of its past and confident of its future as a leading member of the comity of nations.
The mantra that will see us yet achieve this goal is the same mantra that ended foreign rule - uncompromising nationalism, nationalism that verges on devotionalism as epitomised by Vande Mataram, nationalism that puts the nation above everything else.
At a personal level, I am confident that it will be the BJP's noble task to lead gently this great, ancient nation into the next century.